Child care is so expensive these days, that many families find one guardian’s income goes almost entirely to paying for daycare. This means a lot of American families are turning back to the one-income model and leaving one parent to stay home with the kids. That’s not always practical or ideal, though. The cost of child care is a national problem, with the Economic Policy Institute reporting the average cost of infant care in New York is $15,394 a year, or roughly $1,283 a month. That cost goes down to $12,358 for a four year old. The further away one goes from the coasts the price does drop, but is still high. The cost of infant care in Illinois is $13,802 a year. A steep figure especially if a family has more than one child in need of care.
Maybe you’re both well-established in your careers and not willing to give that up. Maybe you both know staying home would take a toll on your mental health. Or maybe, even though a decent chunk of one income goes to childcare, you still need that extra money to keep food on the table? In these uncertain times, we have to do what we can to support our families. So, how can you save money on childcare costs without worrying that you’re cutting corners with your child’s safety? We have a few practical tips.
1. Check With Family and Friends
Okay, so you probably already did this. But, it’s worth mentioning just in case. Maybe your kids don’t have invested grandparents, but what about a great aunt or cousin? Do you have any stay-at-home-mom friends who might be up for adding your kiddo to their mix? Chances are good that a relative or friend will be much cheaper than a stranger or service. Especially once you factor in meals. When I was in college, I babysat my cousins often and was usually paid in dinner and access to the washing machine.
2. Shop Around and Know Your Fees
Sometimes daycare only seems cheaper in the beginning, but they find ways to add in costs. Daycare A might be $200 a week with everything included. Daycare B only be $150 a week, but they charge for everything from slightly late pick-up to meals and don’t prorate weeks that are short because of holidays or illness. In the end, will you end up saving money?
Same goes for nannies. Check in with a local mom group for more information on the going rate for nannies. Some charge a higher rate because of specialized early education degrees they may have, others charge by the hour, while another might charge a lump sum by week, month, or year. You should also ask the right questions and do extra research: will you be paying on the books or off; what are the tax implications for your family; will you give sick days ad hoc as necessary or a set number of days per year; you and the nanny must agree on paid time off or not and when ahead of time. Answer all these for yourself first before you even set out on a search for a nanny.
3. Nanny Sharing Saves Money
Are you part of any mom groups on Facebook? If so, you’ve probably seen parents offering to nanny share and it’s a great way to save money on child care This might look like a family who only needs child care on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but has a nanny looking to work all five days of the week. If you can use their nanny on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, can you utilize another system the other two days? Maybe you can work from home, sign your kiddo up for all day kindergarten on the other two days or even group your kid in with the other family so they get two bonus playdates a week.
While the benefits of a nanny share are countless, there are some drawbacks you should consider, too. For one, finding the nanny to share may be the easy part, but finding a family that you gel with can get complex. For one, if you do a nanny share and the nanny has both kids on the same days, who’s house will the kids stay in? Will you alternate homes?
Another important factor to consider is payroll. A nanny is a household employee, so payroll taxes and overtime laws apply here as well. Will the families split these down the middle? What if one family has two kids and another has one, how will the payments and vacation time be split?
4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Discounts on your Child Care
Does your child care facility offer a sibling rate? Do they give discounts to veterans, first responders or teachers? Can you save money on child care by packing your own lunches?
5. Stagger Schedules
This isn’t always possible, but it’s worth looking into staggering your schedule with a co-parent. Can you go in super early, but have your partner drop off your child when they start their day a little later? Can someone else in your life babysit for half-days but not the full 8-9 hours? Know what’s truly available to you before you take a deep dive into looking at rates.
6. Look Into Options at Your House of Worship
Church-based daycare often offer extremely affordable child care because they consider it part of their ministry. (If your child is going to daycare there, they have hope you’ll attend other events and maybe even a Sunday service or two.) Attending their church is rarely required. While some states are more laid back on expectations for church-based programs, many are still up to snuff or even better than other child care programs in your area. Be forewarned, though: Some aspects of their program might be religion-based, so it might not hurt to make sure they aren’t teaching your child something with which you don’t agree.
Many houses of worship offer daycare services such as these, so check in your area and see what makes the most sense for you and your family.
7. Ask About Flex Spending Accounts and Child Care Tax Credits
At some point or another in your life as a parent, you’ll end up paying for child care. Even if you work out a fabulous system with a caregiver or daycare center, you can still find ways to save even more money. Lots of employers offer FSAs, but talk to HR about including Dependent Care Flex Spending Accounts (DCFSA) as part of your work benefits, as well. Bonus: That money is tax free. There are also child care tax credits you can file for each April. You can even get the tax credit for in-home child care. Just make sure they know that you plan on including their pay in your taxes, as they’ll need to claim that income on their returns, as well. You can’t combine the two, so you’ll have to do the math and figure out which works best for you.
8. Check For Government-based Child Care Assistance
Few people love admitting they need help, right? When it comes to our children, though, we’re always willing to bend in the name of safe, quality care. State governments tend to offer a few options to help parents pay for care so that they can work and make ends meet.
9. Consider a Babysitter
Not everyone needs full time childcare, and for those folks, perhaps going down the daycare or nanny route doesn’t make as much sense as a babysitter who can take the baby or child off your hands while you’re running errands or working. If you’re a part time worker, this might be an option that make sense. If you’re not sure where to start looking for a babysitter, we’ve gone ahead and laid out a guide for how to go about finding one and vetting one.